Op­po­si­tion warns gov’t about Bill’s ‘harsh penal­ties, im­prac­ti­cal mea­sures, omis­sions’

Weekend Mirror - - EDITORIAL -

Ex­haus­tive

and ex­haust­ing’ was the de­scrip­tion given to the pre­sen­ta­tion made by Health Min­is­ter, Volda Lawrence, by Op­po­si­tion Par­lia­men­tar­ian, Cle­ment Ro­hee, who ar­gued that the Min­is­ter failed to ad­dress ma­jor is­sues in the Bill. He made clear that it was the for­mer Peo­ple’s Pro­gres­sive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) ad­min­is­tra­tion that ini­ti­ated the draft­ing of the Tobacco Con­trol Bill, but charged that the Bill was “parked” be­cause the con­tro­ver­sial el­e­ments of the Bill were recog­nised and had to be deal with in a holis­tic man­ner.

Ro­hee warned too that the State must be wary of be­com­ing “too in­tru­sive” when it comes to peo­ple’s per­sonal lives, re­fer­ring to men­tion of smok­ing re­stric­tions in per­sons’ homes in the Bill. “The in­tru­sive na­ture of the Bill ought not be un­der­es­ti­mated,” Ro­hee said.

The Op­po­si­tion Par­lia­men­tar­ian also called for the gov­ern­ment to back up its ar­gu­ments in favour of the Tobacco Con­trol Bill 2017 with sta­tis­tics. “In a Guyana con­text do we have speci­fici­ties in re­la­tion to data on smok­ing…if this data is avail­able then it should be pre­sented in the House…we need to be con­vinced on the ba­sis of fact, not fic­tion,” he said, not­ing ref­er­ences to dated stud­ies, which are pub­lic but go back to 2009.

Ro­hee added, “…there are con­tro­ver­sial el­e­ments in­cluded in the Bill. “He stressed the need to ad­dress these; rather than pass­ing a flawed piece of leg­is­la­tion.

The Op­po­si­tion Par­lia­men­tar­ian said, “This bill is fraught with a host of con­tro­ver­sial mat­ters…con­tro­ver­sies that rest within the cus­toms and the morals of our so­ci­ety, tra­di­tions, it also evokes tremen­dous amounts of con­tro­versy in re­spect as to whether it is pro-busi­ness or anti-busi­ness or pro health … and also the ques­tion of im­ping­ing on per­sonal free­dom and hu­man rights.”

MA­JOR IS­SUES

Sim­i­lar ar­gu­ments were raised by Op­po­si­tion Par- lia­men­tar­ian, Dr Frank An­thony, who made a point of stress­ing that the health im­pacts of us­ing tobacco and tobacco prod­ucts are not dis­puted.

“There is no doubt that the tobacco epi­demic is a ma­jor na­tional con­cern…the Bill has many pos­i­tive at­tributes and I sup­port those, but it also has some harsh penal­ties and im­prac­ti­cal mea­sures and omis­sions,” he said.

Among the con­tro­ver­sial is­sues cited by the An­thony and Ro­hee are:

• The move to have ‘pre­scribed of­fi­cers’ iden­ti­fied by the Health Min­istry vested with po­lice pow­ers, pa­trolling pub­lic venues to “hunt down smok­ers” par­tic­i­pat­ing in so­cial events;

• The is­sue of ca­pac­ity, given the ‘pre­scribed of­fi­cers’ will be tasked with a “mon­u­men­tal” task;

• The is­sue of re­sources to ad­dress enforcement;

• The im­pact on small ven­dors who will face re­stric­tions on show­cas­ing tobacco prod­ucts that they have for sale and the fact that they will be re­stricted from sell­ing sin­gle cig­a­rettes, rather they would have to sell en­tire packs;

• The fact that there is no broad- based ap­proach to tack­ling the Tobacco epi­demic, given that even the Com­mit­tee that will co­or­di­nate the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Bill is to­tally con­trolled by gov­ern­ment, with no space af­forded for the par­tic­i­pa­tion of other sec­tions of civil so­ci­ety; • The en­tan­gle­ment of sig­nif­i­cant con­flicts of in­ter­est and wide min­is­te­rial pow­ers; and • That the Bill seems dom­i­nated by fines and penal­ties, the low­est fine be­ing $10,000 and the high­est fine be­ing $9M with 12 months im­pris­on­ment, among oth­ers.

CON­VEN­TION’S PRO­VI­SIONS IG­NORED

An­thony stressed that while Min­is­ter Lawrence touted the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s ( WHO) Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Tobacco Con­trol ( FCTC) and Guyana’s obli­ga­tions un­der that Con­ven­tion, the Tobacco Con­trol Bill 2017, in re­al­ity, ig­nores much of what t he Con­ven­tion ad­vises.

“When we com­pare the Con­ven­tion with the Bill be­fore us, we see that Ar­ti­cles (in the Con­ven­tion) are left out and one ar­ti­cle is only par­tially in­cluded in the Bill,” he said.

The core de­mand re­duc­tion pro­vi­sions in the WHO FCTC are con­tained in ar­ti­cles 6 to14: Price and tax mea­sures to re­duce the de­mand for tobacco; and Non-price mea­sures to re­duce the de­mand for tobacco, namely: Pro­tec­tion from ex­po­sure to tobacco smoke, Reg­u­la­tion of the con­tents of tobacco prod­ucts, Reg­u­la­tion of tobacco prod­uct dis­clo­sures, Pack­ag­ing and la­bel­ing of tobacco prod­ucts, Ed­u­ca­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, train­ing and pub­lic aware­ness, Tobacco ad­ver­tis­ing, pro­mo­tion and spon­sor­ship, and De­mand re­duc­tion mea­sures con­cern­ing tobacco de­pen­dence and ces­sa­tion. An­thony charged that these are largely not ad­dressed holis­ti­cally in the Tobacco Con­trol Bill 2017.

“We have taken it (ma­jor pro­vi­sions) out or have not put it in, al­though the con­ven­tion speaks to it,” he said, with spe­cific ref­er­ence to reg­u­lat­ing the con­tent of tobacco prod­ucts.

The Op­po­si­tion Par­lia­men­tar­ian added, “How do you pro­pose to ed­u­cate the pub­lic?”

Ad­dress­ing the men­tion by Min­is­ter Lawrence that there will be pro­grammes to help smok­ers quit, he noted that there is no clear pro­gramme set out in the Bill. “Where do you re­fer them? What sup­port sys­tem will be there to help per­sons to quit? There is none….we are lack­ing in this re­gard…. and the Frame­work (FCTC) speaks to this,” An­thony said.

The WHO FCTC opened for sig­na­ture on 16 June to 22 June 2003 in Geneva. The Con­ven­tion en­tered into force on 27 Fe­bru­ary 2005 – 90 days after it had been ac­ceded to, rat­i­fied, ac­cepted, or ap­proved by 40 States.

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